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The Grapes of Wrath
John Steinbeck

THE STORY CHAPTER 6

Tom and Casy rummage through the remnants of the Joad farm. Tom thinks Ma may be dead. What other cause would drive his family away?

He is set straight by Muley Graves, a neighbor. The Joads left just two days earlier and have gone to Uncle John's place eight miles away.

Why? The landowners say they can't afford to support small tenant farms any more. Large, mechanized farms might make a profit, so the tenants have been "tractored out."

"How'd my folks go so easy?" inquires Tom. He knows that it's hard to push the Joads around.

What occurred on the Joads' place echoes what we read in Chapter 5. A representative of the land company evicted the Joads. Pa might have shot the man, but the wrong man would be dead. The poor fellow was just doing what he was told.

Then who is responsible?

Why, it's the bank that owns the land, of course.

Who's the bank?

It's not the man behind the desk in the local branch.

Who, then?

Maybe the directors, the stockholders and creditors.

Well, who controls them?

Money. Property. The need to show a profit.

Steinbeck, it seems, has given us a quick lesson in economics, the point being that the Joads and other tenant farmers can't fight back against an adversary that is not a person but an abstraction.


Nevertheless, Muley is engaged in a one-man resistance movement. He has refused to leave. Alone and bitter, he wanders the countryside. He eats small animals and reigns over a dead land. He calls himself a "graveyard ghos'," haunting the empty farms and sometimes playing cat-and-mouse with deputies on their inspection rounds. He thinks that he's slightly touched for living as he does, but the land is his, he's spilled blood on it and, by God, he's going to stay on it. His name fits his personality.

For dinner that evening, the three men share a jack rabbit that Muley has skinned. Muley acknowledges that although he's hungry he obviously must share his catch with Tom and Casy. "I ain't got no choice in the matter," he comments. Casy finds Muley's casual remark rich with implications. "Muley's got a-holt of somepin," says Casy, "an' it's too big for him, an' it's too big for me." All night Casy ponders Muley's big idea. By daybreak Casy has made a decision but, uncharacteristically, he keeps it to himself. We'll have to wait until later to find out what it is.

Conversation over the campfire draws out Tom's private thoughts. How different Tom suddenly seems. His abrasiveness vanishes. There is another side to his personality, after all.

He talks of his crime and punishment. He would kill Herb Turnbull again under the same circumstances. Four years in prison have not changed him. The time has been wasted. It did not feel like punishment. It ought to have had meaning, he says, but it didn't. The senselessness of his imprisonment bothers him. It has made him lose respect for the law and the government.

Tom's words don't seem like the reflections of a hardened criminal. Rather, he's a man with social consciousness. He's thought about society's rules, has found them full of holes, and now feels somewhat bitter.

To add to his resentment, that evening he and his companions hide from the deputy sheriff to avoid being charged with trespassing- on his own land, no less. Tom agrees with Muley that the "On'y kind a gover'ment we got... leans on us fellas." His attitude toward authority is important, keep it in mind when in later sections of the book he must decide whether or not to obey the law.  

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